In Haiti I am finding there are contrasts. On one hand you see natural and human beauty, life, color, intrigue, laughter, and hope. On the other is disparity, injustice, limited resources, and struggle. The impression I get is that life is both precious and wonderful but also difficult and full of challenges.
I hope in this post, and in anything I write, to show both sides and provide accurate, honest observations. If I focus primarily on the immense poverty, that is indeed real, I am not telling the complete story. Likewise if I speak only of the moments of roaring laughter (also very real), and success and good times, then I am obviously living outside of reality. If you hear tension in my words, that is okay; it is there. As Martha and I adjust to living in a new culture and learning a new language, we are also adjusting to having the responsibility to communicate most truthfully what life is like here for the Haitians we are fortunate enough to meet. As you can imagine this is a process that we are working out each day.
It is a great journey to be on because we are constantly learning new and interesting things. I want to grow in my ability to accurately present the contrast (both sides) of life I see in Haiti so the best and most honest portrayal of Haitians can emerge. They deserve it. I share all this with you just to provide some insight into our process of becoming better and more well rounded storytellers. Thanks for listening.
Martha and I returned recently from a trip to southeast Haiti that I think shows this contrast. Haiti has ten Departments (think States or Provinces), the South East Department being one. In the southeast, World Concern is meeting the needs of people through disaster response, disaster preparedness, and micro-credit. We joined Bunet, World Concern’s Disaster Risk Reduction Coordinator, on this trip to see how we are providing clean water and preparing communities for future disasters.
I want to share with you about the commune (think collection of small communities) of Grand Gosier. Grand Gosier is a rather isolated commune, near the sea and near the Dominican Republic border. One reason it is so isolated is because of the poor condition of the road that leads to it. From Jacmel, the big city in southeast Haiti, you must travel approximately 84 kilometers east to reach Grand Gosier.
Those 84 kilometers took us over four hours. While rock crawling at a snails pace can be exhausting, the views are stunning. This is one contrast I noticed on the trip–you have poor infrastructure yet stunning natural beauty.
Once we arrived in Grand Gosier, we caught up with Pierre; the coordinator for the project in this commune. He explained that the water system for the area, which includes new piping and water collection points, had been damaged by a storm in 2007. Since then those not fortunate to live close to the water source have been forced to spend a lot of time and energy walking to reach water. Even while we were visiting with Pierre, children and women walked past us carrying water. All kinds of jugs, bottles, and containers are used to transport water. Occasionally we saw someone guiding a donkey, loaded down with water, but the majority of people were walking. It was early afternoon, and limited cloud cover meant it was a hot and dusty journey for them. Soon, those long journey’s will not be necessary. Once finished, the project will provide nine water collection points throughout the commune which will shorten the walk to water for many.
As we were listening to Pierre speak about the project, I wondered what precautions were being taken to ensure that this time the water system will be more resilient against the next storm. Unfortunately, hurricanes and heavy storms are all too common in southeast Haiti. Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy in 2012 are the most recent reminders of the devastation such storms can cause. Combined these two storms killed 87 and affected 205,623 people. We cannot stop the rains and winds from coming, however we can be sure that communities are prepared as best as possible.
Pierre explained that the prior water system had used PVC for the piping, but his team is working to replace all the PVC with metal. Though a seemingly small step, using metal will be a huge step towards increasing the system’s and the community’s resiliency.
There is another contrast I saw. It is dry season right now and therefore you have the land which at times looks tired and thirsty, yet you also have a water source waiting to be released and delivered to people throughout Grand Gosier. When the repairs and construction are completed, this water system will provide clean water to people whatever storm or dry spell comes their way.
There is more I want to share from our trip to Grand Gosier and also someone I want to introduce, but I will close for now before this turns into a book. Stay tuned for more about how World Concern is impacting lives in southeast Haiti.